Friday, April 01, 2005

Persistence of the Body

So a woman has died. An unconscious that is utterly foreign to us, that is, by all our empirical understanding, a nothing, an absence that is unplumbable, has closed its non-operation. What was left to the human was the body, and the pixel, and the voice of some other, a Scarborough, a Randall, a Scott Schiavo, torturedly distant relations, parents who are undoubtedly hired performers, shipped in from some proving ground of the less-than-real. Or the less-than-real as we have come to understand it for some time, and that is now moving towards, ushered in by a host of such uncanny actors. For a while I have been aghast, as many have, at the political nature of the events, the paralyzing hypocrisy of the life-protests, life in the mouths of bigots and murderers and bizarrely totalitarian fringe groups. But it occurs to me that as a media, which is, however corrupted and partisan, mainly motivated by profit, economies of escalation, and wars for attention, covers Terri Schiavo to death and beyond, that what is happening now is not the simple effort of a cynical group of charlatans to gain a certain political power, a certain influence, alone.

For over a decade, the parents have watched over the ghost of something, an illusion tricked out in hospital robes and precision sterility. The public courts of opinion have argued over a terrain that comes after human life, a terrain of the non-conscious which we have no access to and no law has ever successfully mastered. As the driving forces of our culture become more and more abstract, the transparent accumulation of capital, unknowable technologies, satellites, war machines, the manufacture of polls and reports on consumer taste, the reality of television, the care in preparation for death, the Socratic idea of life, the Enlightenment attempts at control of life against death, are fading once again. The Schindlers desperate desire to hold something, the fascination of lawyers, the spectacle of judges, the tears of believers in something, the pundits enraptured and mortified by a taste of death: again after so many wars and so much mass-killing the desensitization has ended along with a degree of wisdom, an attempt to understand, and again we are enthralled and stupefied by the incredible specter of death. The sacralization of organic material bereft of consciousness, a sacralization shelled out in millions, the desire to take ownership of unborn fetuses, the will to torture foreigners, who are guilty of falling into a certain orbit, the dangerous orbit of our society's awareness, the religious veneration of land, of real estates, have turned us back towards a materialist aesthetic, that against the materialist utopian socialism of the twentieth century, the twin stop besides the Holocaust on our failed road to Enlightenment, returns to a medieval moment, before changes we had assumed would be fixed and permanent, before a re-codification of philosophy, before a re-birth in transcendent attempts through human creation, through art, through the criticism, and not the worship, of an absurd reality.

America's obsession with the body, a body always under the repression of judgment, violence, censure, life-support, the life-support crib, the mystical memory of some god, some divine force, some magic, some incredibly potent father, has taken us back to when executions were public, saints were murdered in front of the eyes of their followers, when torture was no aberrancy but a way of life. The carnival at Pinellas, the king's dungeon re-iterated across the world in American torture chambers, the courtly rumor-mill of a drunken and stuffed Washington, are old old images. Although this is a dark turn, the realization of the return to the naked pain of the human body, its open, accepted desecration, and its open, idolatrous veneration, allows for the thinking of a possibility.

At the time of public executions in Europe, as Foucault has been known to mention, a true carnival-like atmosphere set in, and often the sovereign, exerting his force through brutal control, brutal torture, brutal murder, had to be wary of the festival, as its common energies might rise too high, sparking a riot, an insurrection, a violence in reaction the violence of those in control. The Enlightenment did away with such public violence, in order to better contain the mass, the populace, the eyeballs, with deferral, suggestion, tantalizing intimations of justice. Insurrection thus became protests, speeches, beautiful essays, PACs, minority parties, third parties. This lasted for a long time, but now perhaps in America, that era is ending -- those in control, not just presidents, but businesses in it for the spectacle, pressure groups in it from fear of themselves, partisans running from their own ignorance, hangmen, are opting again for public displays, for not rehabilitation but vengeance, for not peace, but feudal management of resources in a continuing exchange of minor land wars. For torture, for control of women, for control of the story we tell about bodies before they are born and after they cease to think. The only chance this presents one with is the chance of the carnival, the public insurrection, that awesome possibility that is terrifying, of wild violence, spurred on by the violence of the performance played out in front of us. The strategies of the Enlightenment may not be enough to contend with the practitioners of a new medievalism.

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